The German Pavillon at the Biennale 2012 Architecture as a resource

Germany’s population is characterised by declining growth, metropolitan regions are expanding, most of the towns, however, are shrinking and peripheral and outlying regions are also marked by depopulation. “There is a surplus of architecture!“, comments Muck Petzet, General Commissioner of the German Pavilion at the 13th Architecture Biennale in Venice. There is a pressing need for redistribution, a shift in values and downsizing in architectural planning.

German Pavillon at the Biennale in Venice German Pavillon at the Biennale in Venice | Photo: Erica Overmeer Using the recycling slogan “Reduce Reuse Recycle“ the German Pavilion focuses on the sustainable use of building stock. The concept of the exhibition organisers is mainly to “raise awareness of existing inventory as a key architectural resource for shaping our future.“ Petzet presents 16 architecture projects that stand out with an intelligent approach to existing stock.

„Less is more“

It is a well-known issue. The volume of new construction projects in Germany only accounts for about one percent of building activities. 80 percent of the housing budget is spent on existing stock in Germany. According to Petzet, the greatest modernisation challenge which lies ahead is our approach to the mass of everyday architecture, including the less appreciated buildings and housing estates from the nineteen fifties to nineteen seventies. In view of climate change and the established energy saving targets, all existing buildings are seen as an energy resource. In a restructuring assessment for existing buildings it is important to take the energy balance of the entire life cycle of a building into account and not only the energy consumption. The common practice of retrofitting insulating materials to save energy is looked at critically. “Such an approach“, Petzet adds, “clearly indicates that it is more expedient to extend the useful life of existing architecture using a minimal amount of means.“ The energies stored in building materials are also an important aesthetic, cultural, social and historic resource for the interpretation and shaping of our future living space.

„Reduce, Reuse, Recycle“

The exhibition design and interaction with the German Pavilion is based on the logic of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle“. Konstantin Grcic’s impressive design stands out through its cautious and subtle approach to existing architecture. The exhibition begins outside. The main portal is closed, a large illuminated arrow points to the entrance around the corner. The monumental portico has now become a terrace, dotted with Venetian municipal benches, that awards it incredible lightness. Inside the pavilion the former hierarchy of main and secondary rooms has been converted into an exciting network of rooms of equal status. Dry walkways (passarelle), on loan from the municipality of Venice, connect the rooms and simultaneously serve as seats, pathways and writing surfaces.

Exhibition in the German Pavillon Exhibition in the German Pavillon | Photo: Erica Overmeer The projects displayed are each represented on a large-format image taken by Erica Overmeer. These life-size images in the form of wallpaper break up the heaviness of the exhibition rooms are draw attention to the places and sections of the architectural projects. The images depict deserted urban areas and architectures with a minimum of action and reveal nothing about the complexity of the addressed topic or the spatial and architectural value of the projects. The historical, social and cultural context of the buildings is only appreciated in combination with the journal and book accompanying the exhibition. These contain detailed text supplements, information on other projects and interviews. In the catalogue prepared by Muck Petzet and Florian Heilmeyer the qualities and intelligent strategies of the often unspectacular interventions are described separately.

The projects on show cover a wide spectrum: from famous Berlin museum buildings, such as the National History Museum of Diener & Diener and the New Museum of David Chipperfield, to the refurbishment of housing estates, a residence hall for students in Munich or prefabricated slab buildings in the State of Thuringia, to small private projects such as a refuge in the Erzgebirge mountain range or an “Antivilla“ in Krampnitz. Temporary projects like the Guerilla Stores – the occupation of empty buildings through a Japanese fashion label – are also shown as concepts of re-use. Despite differences in size, scope and strategy all projects have one decisive thing in common: the appreciation of existing stock.

The social responsibility of architecture

Exhibition in the German Pavillon Exhibition in the German Pavillon | Photo: Markus Lanz The projects from Japan and Venezuela that won the Golden Lion Award at this year’s Biennale, also address the social relevance of architecture and the restructuring of building stock. They concern reconstruction work in Japan, after the tsunami disaster, as a joint project between architects and residents and the Torre David in Caracas - the acquisition of a 45-floor skyscraper shell by the people living in it. Both projects show a contemporary and dedicated approach, in spite of the extremely difficult starting situation. A little more vitality and complexity in the presentation of the German projects would have created a greater impact and enhanced the overall clarity of the design. The exhibition addresses key aspects and is an important and timely contribution to the discussion on the sustainable development of existing structures.

Common Ground
Architecture Biennale, Venice
29th August until 25th November 2012